Youth Leading Rangers Out of the Gate

TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 18: Artemi Panarin #10 and Igor Shesterkin #31 of the New York Rangers celebrate victory against the Toronto Maple Leafs in an NHL game at Scotiabank Arena on October 18, 2021 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Rangers defeated the Maple Leafs 2-1 in overtime. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

You love to see it when a plan comes together. So far in this young season the New York Rangers are seeing the youth that they spent years collecting lead the way for the Blueshirts. Igor Shesterkin, Adam Fox, and Alexis Lafreniere have been true bright spots so far this year for the Rangers. The big guns have yet to really show up, with Artemi Panarin having 3 points in five games so far, which still isn’t something that should worry fans.

It is great however to see Lafreniere come out with a strong start after what was a slow rookie campaign. Lafreniere has also been given an opportunity on the top powerplay unit with Strome in covid protocol, and while the Rangers powerplay hasn’t been good, Lafreniere has shown his playmaking ability for setting up chances for teammates. Lafreniere has also really stepped up in Kaapo Kakko’s absence where it has showcased the Rangers lack of depth on the wings.

When you get paid there is always a fear that you can start playing like someone who got paid and someone that isn’t hungry anymore. Igor Shesterkin has shown that he’s even hungrier for more after earning his nice payday this past summer.

In back to back games so far on this road trip, the Rangers won two games that they had no business whatsoever of winning but thanks to a Henrik Lundqvist effort by Shesterkin the Blueshirts are 3-0-0 on their current trip. Shesterkin has come out of the gate red hot with a 3-0-1 1.47 GAA and .953 save percentage so far in the young season.

Hopefully, Gallant won’t overuse Shesterkin and burn him out before a potential postseason run but what we are seeing from Shesterkin right now is what Rangers fans should get accustomed to seeing. This isn’t just a flash in the pan, we saw him do it in the KHL, AHL, and now he’s continuing his dominance in the NHL.

How do you top a Norris Trophy? How about priming yourself to be a top contender for a second one two years in a row. Adam Fox has been sensational early on and he’s showing no signs of slowing down or stopping. His defensive game is probably one of the most underrated things about the third year NHL d-man. When you see most offensively minded defensemen you will normally see the defensive side of their game suffer but Fox is a different story which is extremely rare for such a young d-man.

Fox in his own end never seems to get rattled and he controls the puck with a poise that leads to clean breakouts for the Rangers and easier offensive zone entries. Fox’s passing is far and away his greatest offensive attribute and look no further than his pass to Sammy Blais to set up Lafreniere’s game winning goal against Nashville on Thursday.

Another player who deserves a ton of praise for his play early on is Sammy Blais. While he was maligned by the fanbase because he was traded for fan favorite Pavel Buchnevich, he’s blocked out the outside noise and has played very well to start. He’s been thrust into a top six role because of the Rangers injuries and lack of depth on the wings.

Blais plays a straight line game and likes to play the body to separate players from the puck in the offensive zone and he’s quickly become a fan favorite at MSG. He’s also starting to form a nice chemistry with Lafreniere and he’s unearthed some skill that wasn’t seen on the 4th line in St. Louis. Blais has been given an opportunity on Broadway and he’s seized it and hasn’t looked back thus far.

While the Rangers wait for Kakko to get healthy and Zibanejad and Panarin’s point production to kick up, the Blueshirts have been able to rely on the impressive stockpiled youth and that’s been a relief. If and when the vets offense turns around and the kids keep on maturing the Blueshirts will be a team that nobody wants to face down the stretch of the season.

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